Former Commerce & Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who lived in California, was 11 when he and his family were sent to live in an internment camp in Wyoming.
Wartime animosity toward the Japanese and fear of another attack on the homeland blurred into a mass hysteria of racial profiling that asserted itself into society through xenophobic policies. The internment of American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II is one of the darkest and most shameful periods of American history.
But as any history teacher tells their class: History offers us lessons to learn from. It shows us that xenophobia is merely an expression of fear; that desperate people cling to hate in order to salvage themselves, and that these social tendencies are always overcome.
President Trump and his administration seemed to have skipped class (and for clarification, there are no typos in the following quotes).
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
- June 16, 2015
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries coming here?”
- January 11, 2018
“We cannot allow all of these people to invade our country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came.”
- June 24, 2018
In March, the Trump administration announced they would be adding a question to the census pertaining to an individual's citizenship status.
Written in the constitution, the census is intended to determine, “the whole Number of free Persons,” living within the United States. The census is an important tool for the government - according to a Census Bureau report, its data guided the allotment of more than $675 billion in federal funds during a single fiscal year. As well as allocating funds for social programs, the data is used to determine the number of representatives a given area needs, because the number of house representatives is relative to the total population.
“Just the nature of this administration makes people that much more wary about what they might be asking about,” said Mineta.
The administration’s decision immediately set off a firestorm of public responses, most notably from the ACLU, and Attorney Generals of twelve different states. What they are concerned about is the data being skewed, an outcome many argue is unconstitutional.
A lawsuit from California lawsuit quoted a 2017 Census Bureau memo that reported a recent rise in immigrants’ fears about the confidentiality of their personal information in surveys and focus groups, some citing speeches, tweets, and actions by President Trump.
If immigrants were to shun the census, it could reduce the number of congressional seats and the amount of federal funding states with large numbers of foreign-born residents receive, such as California, which has more than any other state. More generally, if immigrants avoid the national headcount the census results would be incorrect, hurting health and social science research.
In another lawsuit, New York attorney general, Barbara D. Underwood is arguing that this was done with intention. They claim that the Federal government is ensuring that the nation’s 11 million-plus undocumented immigrants are not counted for the purpose of drawing congressional and other political districts.
Regardless of intention, if immigrants shy away from answering the census the practical impact would be to reduce the number of congressional districts, and therefore Electoral College votes in states with large numbers of noncitizens — districts which often vote Democrat.
Those arguing against the addition of a question regarding one’s citizenship status being added to the 2020 census argue it is irrelevant. The census is meant to, according to the constitution, count everyone - regardless of citizenship. The census is a tool for acquiring data that is used to run the country, and is not intended to be used for political purposes. Moreover, the census is not supposed to share its data for concerns of privacy.
And while the Census Bureau has made promises to uphold its standards of privacy, immigrants still have reason to worry.
Since 1970, the government has done a census every decade to count the people living in the country, both non citizen and citizen. Briefly around the 1820s the government began asking about citizenship, before reverting back to previous norms by the 1840s.
Then, from 1890 to 1950, the census did include a question pertaining to citizenship - if those dates seem familiar to you, that’s for good reason. Whether by coincidence, or likely not, this is the same time period of particular interest to scholars of racial animosity in America. This time period, post civil war reconstruction era, is when the KKK reached its height of power, when a majority of confederate statues were raised to strike fear in black men who wanted to use the 14th amendment, and when conservatives in government were doing anything within their power to stop the minority from voting.
These racial animosities went largely unchecked, and coalesced into the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent. In 2007, it was uncovered that information from the 1940 census was secretly used to guide enforcement officers on the locations of Japanese Americans.
The atrocity of Japanese internment shook the country to its core, becoming one of the most regrettable acts made by this country. After 1950 the question was taken off the census. In 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed legislation issuing an apology, as well as offering $20,000 in reparations for property seized or destroyed during the roundups of citizens.
Beyond these historic atrocities, even lawful disclosures can raise alarms. The Census Bureau came under scrutiny in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the bureau gave publicly available information to the Department of Homeland Security about neighborhoods that were home to large numbers of Arab Americans.
This administration's actions can produce a census that leaves many people uncounted and therefor powerless. That is by definition unconstitutional. The census is a tool to gather data so the government can run properly, and if a government action results in a census that leads to an incorrect census, it must be stopped.
The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus & Congressional Hispanic Caucus have both denounced the added question, and Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) has introduced legislation that would block the question from being added.
The reaches of the Presidential power are being expanded, abused and perverted for political purposes in ways previously unseen in American history. It is important to remember that in our framework for government allows for checks and balances.
Now is the time to enact our ‘check and balance’. We, the people, need to take Congress back from special interests and wealthy donors this November and send Trump a message: ‘We are here, we are strong, and you cannot bully us.” Show up to the polls November 6th with this in mind. Vote Democrat, put country over party.